Have you or someone you love been seriously injured while working offshore? If so, you should not hesitate to contact the experienced admiralty lawyers from Arnold & Itkin LLP as soon as possible. Backed by extensive experience, our firm is proud to have won billions of dollars in verdicts and settlements. We are fully committed to the success of our clients, which can be seen in our testimonials, case results, and more.
We represent all types of injured seamen, including those injured aboard the following:
With the help of our lawyers, you may be able to recover financial compensation that covers everything from your immediate medical bills to future rehabilitation costs to even lost wages. If you would like to learn more about the ways in which our offshore injury firm can help you, call today at (888) 346-5024 for a free consult.
Admiralty law, also commonly referred to as maritime injury law, is the area of law that governs offshore activity. This can include the carriage of goods, mariner insurance, marine salvaging, injuries to passengers and goods by sea, and more. Admiralty law is composed of two parts: laws created as federal statutes and "common law" developed over time by the courts through major court decisions (known as general maritime law).
Admiralty has a rich history that can be traced all the way back to 500 AD, if not earlier. One of the first mentions of maritime law stems from the influences of Rhodian Law. In 533 AD, Emperor Antoninus was quoted as saying:
“I am indeed lord of the world, but the Law is the lord of the sea. This matter must be decided by the maritime law of the Rhodians, provided that no law of ours is opposed to it.”
Rhodian Law, however, was far from the only source of maritime law history. Over the centuries, admiralty law has been shaped by countless cultures and borrowed from several laws. Shipping—both for commerce and trade and as a form of transportation—was so crucial to historical society that many cultures formed their own laws surrounding it. In the 13th century, the Consolat de Mar or “Consulate of the Sea” was followed by Spain, Provence, and several Italian cities. In the 12th century, the Rolls of Oléron was crafted, which became the foundation of maritime law in England and France, as well as Scotland, Flander, Prussia, and Castille. The Rolls still have considerable influence.
Other prominent sources of modern day maritime law include:
While the United States borrowed heavily from its British roots, it has formulated its own standards for admiralty law throughout the course of its history. U.S. maritime law is created by two main components.
The first is composed of several federal maritime statutes that have been instated over time:
In situations where an individual cannot file a claim under federal statute, they may find legal remedies under general maritime law. An example of this may be an individual who suffered an injury while on a recreational boat. General maritime law also provides additional protection to seamen injured while working offshore.
Jurisdiction in admiralty cases is outlined in Article III of the U.S. Constitution and The Judiciary Act of 1789; this extends judicial power of the United States to "all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction." Congress granted district courts original jurisdiction in civil cases of admiralty jurisdiction.
While there are specific cases that can only be heard in federal court, the "saving to suitors" clause allows for state courts to hear an admiralty case when it involves a local matter. Still, the state court is required to apply federal law—not state law—to these claims; this is known as the reverse-Erie doctrine.
If there are no applicable federal statutes, the state court may use uniform laws established by the Supreme Court. If there are no statutes or uniform laws that apply, the state court can adopt state law.
While admiralty law is vast, there are several prominent features, including the following:
For offshore workers who are injured or made ill, there is no more important aspect of maritime law than the concept of maintenance and cure. This doctrine has roots as old as 1150 A.D. when the Rolls of Oléron became widely known. The Rolls of Oléron was northwestern Europe's first formal version of maritime law, with Article IV providing the foundation for the modern interpretation of maintenance and cure.
Today, maintenance and cure defines the shipowner's responsibility to provide "maintenance" and "cure" to an injured seaman until they reach a point known as "maximum medical improvement." Maintenance is the basic living expenses during the recovery period; cure is the medical attention needed by the seaman.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, maintenance and cure benefits are designed to be full and inclusive; however, not all maritime employers deliver to that level. For example, maintenance benefits are meant to cover everything from rent or mortgage to electricity to food and transportation. Still, employers may shortchange an employee with outdated rates (some as low as $15 per day) that do not cover necessities.
Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)
One question often asked regarding maintenance and cure benefits is how long they last. For injured seaman, the answer is that they last until they reach MMI. For an injured seaman to reach MMI does not mean they are at the same health as they were prior to the injury—it simply means that they have reached the point where no further improvement is expected. Essentially, the seaman is "as good as they are going to get."
Admiralty law also extends legal protection to passengers aboard traveling vessels. Under this body of law, shipowners have a duty of reasonable care to individuals traveling on their ship. Should a passenger suffer an injury during the course of their travel, they may have grounds to pursue a lawsuit if their injury was tied to the negligence of another. As with all personal injury cases, the passenger will bear the responsibility of proving the negligence of the third party. For most passenger injury cases, the statute of limitations is three years; however, if the injured occurred while aboard a cruise ship, it may be limited to only one year.
In the maritime industry, there are individuals who may have a lien against a ship. For example, a bank that provides a shipowner money to purchase the vessel may use a maritime lien to ensure that they get paid. Similar to how other liens work, these individuals or entities may seize or arrest the vessel if payment is never received. For this action to be enforced, the action must be taken to a federal admiralty court.
Following a shipwreck, the act of recovering the ship and its cargo is known as "marine salvage." This can include towing, refloating, patching, or repairing the ship. In many of today's cases, the process of salvage focuses primarily on ensuring that leaking oil is addressed first so that the environment is not affected.
Currently, there are two different types of salvage: contract and pure. In contract salvage, the owner of the ship / property enter into a business agreement to commence salvage operations. In pure salvage, there is no existing contract, although that relationship is still implied. To claim a salvage award, the rescuer will need to bring his claim to court, with the award being given on the merit of the service and value of the property.
For American seamen injured while working offshore, there are three ways sources of compensation:
The doctrine of maintenance and cure is explained above. The doctrine of unseaworthiness is the legal requirement of a shipowner to provide a safe vessel to all workers who are aboard it. If the employee suffers an injury caused by the ship's "unseaworthiness," they may be entitled to recover financial compensation.
The Jones Act, known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, is a federal statute that provides legal protection to maritime workers who are injured during the course of their work by the negligence of the shipowner, the captain, or even their fellow crewmembers. It operates similarly to the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA).
The Jones Act says the following under 46 U.S.C. § 30104:
"A seaman injured in the course of employment or, if the seaman dies from the injury, the personal representative of the seaman may elect to bring a civil action at law, with the right of trial by jury, against the employer. Laws of the United States regulating recovery for personal injury to, or death of, a railway employee apply to an action under this section."
If you or someone you love has been injured offshore, your case will most likely fall under admiralty law. Passengers injured aboard cruise ships, harbor workers injured during the course of their work, and even seamen hurt in oil rig explosions and other offshore accidents all potentially have causes of action available in admiralty or under maritime law. Regardless of the situation, if your injury occurred while you were working on or near the navigable waters of the United States or adjoining areas, it is important that you work with an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in the field of admiralty law. Our team at Arnold & Itkin offers this level of experienced advocacy. We encourage you to contact a maritime lawyer from our team as soon as possible.
At Arnold & Itkin, we are proven trial attorneys who are well-versed in maritime law. If you would like to see for yourself the successes that we have had in protecting injured seamen, we encourage you to check out our victories and case results. Our firm takes more maritime cases to trial, handles more admiralty lawsuits, and represents more offshore workers annually than any other firm in the country. We recently recovered the largest single-event personal injury verdict in Louisiana history, and we have previously set records with our trial verdicts in other states.
If you would like to discuss your case with a knowledgeable maritime law attorney from our firm, simply call us today at (888) 346-5024. You can also fill out our online case evaluation form.
Arnold & Itkin represented nearly a third of the crewmembers injured in the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
Because maritime law is so complex and so complicated, it is crucial that you work with an attorney who has an in-depth understanding of how it works and who has proven themselves in similar cases before.